Why do cats go towards visitors who dislike cats?

It is not true that cats go towards visitors or strangers who dislike cats. People who dislike or hate cats or are cat-phobic sometimes claim that when visiting a cat owner’s home their cat goes to them while ignoring someone else who likes cats.

This may happen occasionally but I don’t think that it is typical. In fact I can refer to an informal test carried out by Dr Bradshaw, the biologist who wrote the best seller Cat Sense.

Dr Bradshaw says that cats are very sensitive and aware of human body language so my thoughts are that if cats do sometimes migrate towards visitors who dislike cats it may be due to signals given off by these people being misinterpreted or ignored.

But the fact of the matter is that Dr Bradshaw’s test disproves the theory that cats go to cat-phobics. He gathered together a group of men – no women because he could not find women who hated cats – some of whom liked and some who disliked cats. They were asked to sit on a couch and to stay still when the cats came into the room. They were requested to remain still even if a cat jumped up onto their lap.

Dr Bradshaw was unable to prevent the cat-phobics from turning away from the cats. This happened within ten seconds of the cat being seen by the person.

The cats could sense the disposition of the people in the room.

“They rarely approached the cat-phobics preferring to sit near the door and look away from them.”

Bradshaw is insure how the cats detected the difference between the cat lovers and cat-phobics or haters. He surmises that the cats could sense that the cat-phobics were tenser or smelled different or they looked at the cats nervously.

The impression Bradshaw got was that the cats were ‘keenly perceptive’ of the visitors’ demeanour. One of the eight cats, put a spoke into the works so to speak and made a beeline for a cat hater and jumped onto his lap purring loudly. The exception proves the rule I think. It is just that the experience for a cat hater or phobic is profound enough to make it more memorable that a cat turning away and keeping his distance.

3 thoughts on “Why do cats go towards visitors who dislike cats?”

  1. I am not so sure that results from a lab’ environment are terribly useful when testing out theories about the behaviour of cats, or indeed any other species. The artifice works against the integrity of the observational experiment.

    A better way might be to establish some cat resident homes, fit unobtrusive cameras up in the living room or room most used for visitors. Then film over a few weeks. Cat haters could be lined up as visitors along with cat lovers.

    Using the cat’s normal environment would yield more accurate results. The differences in cat personalities would show up too, adding some true colour and depth to the gathered data.

    I have been impressed with a lot of Dr Bradshaw’s work, but this isn’t one of his better experiments in my view. If only he’d ditch the behaviourism and embrace ethology!

  2. I get and believe all that, but there might be a tiny bit more to it. When a cat has a clear choice between two opposites, by comparing the two the cat might see more direct eye contact from the cat lover. I believe that is generally instinctively a little more uncomfortable to a cat, (because that is always what a cat sees when pursued or attacked, either by play-friend or foe). It’s common to all cats and works in reverse too, as when a pursuer sees it’s target animal look at them, the jig is up and the advantage of surprise or ambush is lost. So, if a cat is given to going to either of those people in the room, it will more likely the person who is not staring at them, albeit from dislike but the cat doesn’t know that. I proved that (again) to myself just last night when I had the chance to coax a long time notorious stray/street cat to me by laying on my back and looking up near my car where he was hiding. I’d go into it but safe to say it was a very rewarding and telling experience, partly supporting my theory here. This guy, ravaged by street life eventually made his way over and rubbed all up and down my side and we had a pet session as if we’d been friends forever. I hope to bring him in and take care of him.


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